Hallucinogens primarily interfere with two chemicals in the brain, serotonin and glutamate. Serotonin is a brain chemical which typically helps regulate mood and emotion. Under the influence of hallucinogens, serotonin levels are skyrocketed, causing the attractive feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion, universal love, and other euphoric sensations. Sexual behavior, sensory perception, and muscle control/sensations of muscles in the brain can all be elevated under the influence of hallucinogens.
The “trip” caused by hallucinogens is largely due to reduced activity in the thalamus, the part of the brain right on top of the brain stem in the middle of the brain. The thalamus acts as a traffic directional or a security guard. Our senses take in billions upon billions pieces of information and input throughout the day, far more than our brains are totally equipped to process. What does get into the brain for processing first gets approved by the thalamus. When activity in the thalamus is reduced by hallucinogens, it becomes less picky about what sensory information comes in. As a result everything comes in which is why people under the influence of hallucinogens like LSD (acid) or psilocybin (magic mushrooms) claim to feel everything. Feelings aren’t the only senses enhanced. People can see colors, shapes, moving objects, and perceive the sensory world in a way they never have before. For hallucinogens, that can lead to what many have called an ‘enlightening’ experience or a traumatizing one. A “bad trip” can lead to disturbing images, severe anxiety and paranoia, as well as haunting hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and feelings that the “trip” will never end. In the “psychedelic” 1960s when large populations were using acid, “bad trips” caused floods to mental hospitals and emergency rooms. People who were regularly abusing hallucinogens in higher and higher quantities suffered more and more mental health issues which caused permanent damage to their brain.
Long term effects of hallucinogens
People often refer to older adults who “did too much acid in the ‘60s” as being “burned” or having their brains “fried”. Researchers haven’t yet discovered what exactly the long term effects of LSD do on the brain nor have they solidified that hallucinogens are indeed addictive. However, many have found themselves addicted to “the trip” or other hallucinogenic drugs. Those who have abused them have found long lasting effects as a result. There are some whose mental capacity has been slighted, perceptions have been slighted, and some who developed psychosis, neurosis, or severe paranoia in addition to trauma from negative experiences.
Other long term effects can include:
- Persisting psychosis
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
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